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“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).
 
Three months after my brother Paul was diagnosed with metastasized cancer, he was in the hospital and dying. He was the father of 7 and the grandfather of 13 and had lived a full life. However, we were in disbelief and shock at the suddenness of his deterioration. Two days before he passed away, he rallied and asked to speak privately with his wife of more than 50 years and their eldest son. He spoke of his deep love for his wife and each of his children, and then he told his eldest to “take care of your mother” and, most importantly, “do not fight with her.” He then told my nephew, “Love your two boys, and bring them up with good moral values and faith.” Paul asked his son to kiss him goodbye—my nephew doesn’t remember kissing his dad since he was a little boy. The origin of the word “good-bye” is “God be with you.” My brother assured his beloved wife and oldest child that all would be well—God was with them. Paul trusted that God had a place for him and that God would allow Paul to watch over his family.
 
Jesus begins his good-byes to his disciples, a few days before his death, with a comforting idea for those who are anxious about what happens when our lives are over. Jesus assures his friends that they need not worry: he is going to prepare the way before them. Put in everyday language, it may sound like this: “We have plenty of room, and we will welcome you.” “Many dwelling places” means a place for everyone. It is not a matter of better or worse, a mansion or a small apartment. There is no consideration of being able to pay the mortgage or afford the rent. Jesus says, “Where I am, there you may be also” (3)—not only now but forever.
 
Thomas then speaks for all of us when he asks for more information. How can we know the way? “The Way” is a code word for the new path to union with God. Following Christ, who is the way, is a total re-orientation of our lives toward God. This re-orientation awakens us to new life, just as Lazarus experienced a return to life upon hearing the words of Jesus. Jesus, as he assures Thomas, is the way, and the Father and Jesus are one. Philip then asks Jesus the obvious: “Show us the Father.” And Jesus, a bit exasperated, answers Philip’s question with a totally new vision of God: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (10, 11). That is an explanation of the message of incarnation proclaimed in the first words of this Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1). Jesus is the Word of God in our midst—not metaphorically, but truly with and among us. Jesus makes it clear that God is not “up there” but here among us, as the word “Emmanuel” signifies: “with us is God.”
 
Jesus assures us that “with us is God” as he shows us the way of love in the ups and downs of life, in sickness and in health, and especially on our journey from death to life. He reminds us in this good-bye scene not to be anxious; wherever we are and whatever situation we find ourselves in, there God will also be.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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Father_Lasance_prayer_bookI once overheard a man telling his companion that she was overreacting to whatever situation they were discussing.
 
“Ask yourself this,” he said. “A hundred years from now, who will know the difference?”
 
That advice immediately made me think of the same sentiment put in another way and in another language: “Quid hoc ad aeternitatem?’’ — “What is this in eternity?’’
 
That is said to have been a favorite expression of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Aloysius Gonzaga; I have known of it since I was about 14 years old.
 
And I know exactly where I first heard it: in “My Prayer-Book” by Father Francis Xavier Lasance.
 
A beat-up copy of that book was left in our parish church when I was an altar boy, and when no one had claimed it after a very long time, the curate, Fr. Bernard McKenna, gave it to me.
 
That was in 1956, and the book is on my desk now.
 
“My Prayer-Book” was first copyright in 1908 and again in 1936. When the one I have was published, it sold for anywhere from $1.75 to $10.00, depending on the binding. A replica of the 1908 edition is on sale now for about $26.00.
 
The book is 5.5 by 3.5 inches and it contains more than 700 pages of “reflections, counsels, prayers, and devotions” as the title page reports. It also contains the order of the Mass in Latin and English.
 
Some of the wisdom in this book comes from Father Lasance himself, and a great deal comes from a large number of other sources.
 
The subtitle of this book is “Happiness in Goodness” which reflects the author’s central theme, that ours is basically an optimistic faith designed not to depress us but to bring us good cheer.
 
It was in that context, in a section called “Faith and Humor,” that the expression “Quid hoc ad aeternitatem?’’ appeared.
 
“Think of the countless occurrences that fret and annoy,’’ says the prayer book, “that drive a man into himself and shut up his outlook over the world which the good God has given him, that make him petty and irritable and sour—how they would go down before such a question, as rank weeds before a scythe; how they would be lost sight of, as a swarm of gnats becomes invisible under the full light of an unclouded noon!”
 
I took that argument seriously and have pretty much lived under its influence ever since, trying to weigh the trivial problems of daily life against the promise of life forever in the presence of God.
 
All right, the language and the imagery are kind of dated, and there are some instances in which the tone of “My Prayer-Book” may seem out of place in our time—an uncharitable view of Protestants, for example—but it is a compendium, and a tangible relic, of our unchanging faith, and I keep it close at hand so that I can thumb through its pages.
 
Father Lasance (1860-1946) was a prodigious figure. He was a diocesan priest in Ohio, serving as a curate and a chaplain until, at the age of 30, he was forced by illness to live as a semi-invalid.
 
But quid hoc ad aeternitatem? Father Lasance, instead of feeling sorry for himself, used the time he gained by being precluded from parish work to write 39 books which were translated into numerous languages and which sold in the millions of copies.
 
He accepted no compensation for his work, but asked that the revenue be given to charities and used to provide his books free of charge to those who couldn’t afford to buy them.
 

—For his devotional works, Fr. Lasance
was given a special blessing by Pope Pius XI on May 10, 1927.


 
This post first appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’ Philip said to him, ‘Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father’” (John 14:1-12).
 
This passage, a theological discourse, can be challenging to understand. In it, Jesus explains who he is and how he is related to God the Father. He teaches that his imminent and necessary departure should not be met with sadness, but rather that we, his disciples, should trust and find comfort in it. He assures us that through knowing him, we will know God the Father and be united with them someday soon.
 
We have all had experiences in which finding faith and trust has been difficult, and in this passage we see Thomas and Philip experiencing just that. Thomas does not want to believe in the reality that following Jesus means following him through his passion and death. Philip lacks the faith to understand that by knowing Jesus we know God the Father.
 
Life with God comes only through following Jesus through his death, and we need not doubt or be discouraged. Through belief and trust in Jesus and by living his message, we will return to the assurance of everlasting life with him. He has prepared a place for us.
 
– When have you found it difficult to trust and believe in Jesus’ message?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“Jesus said: ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.’ Although Jesus used this figure of speech, the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them.
So Jesus said again, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.’” (John 10:1-10).
 
Those listening to this parable would have been familiar with shepherds. It was not the most desirable of professions—shepherds were away from home at night and unable to protect their households. It was also a physically challenging profession—shepherds had to contend with the heat of the day, the cold at night, and the wild animals and thieves that threatened their flocks. They did, however, develop close relationships with their sheep. Shepherds frequently had individual calls for each sheep, and should his flock become mixed with another, a shepherd had only to call his sheep to gather them.
 
Jesus contrasts himself with thieves and robbers and later with the “false shepherds” who lead flocks astray. The parallel between effective leadership and shepherding was used in the Hebrew Scriptures, and people would have recognized it. These Pharisees are so concerned with obeying the rules and observing the Sabbath that they cannot hear Jesus’ voice and do not follow where he leads.
 
In our own lives, we are sometimes faced with “false shepherds”—promises or offers of things that will make our lives better but tempt us to lose our focus on Jesus’ call to each one of us as unique individuals.
 
– How do you experience the presence of Jesus as the Good Shepherd?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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Fra_Angelico_St._DominicAs a Dominican Sister, a member of the worldwide Order of Preachers, I have a special love for the Gospel of Matthew.
 
St. Dominic, our founder, carried around with him a copy of the Gospel of Matthew and the Epistles of St. Paul. According to tradition, Dominic poured over them so much that he knew them by heart. The Gospel of Matthew was central to his prayer and inspired his preaching. The Dominican artist Fra Angelico depicted St. Dominic seated at the foot of the Cross, meditating on the Word of God, and most other paintings of Dominic portray him holding a gospel book, presumably Matthew, close to his heart.
 
Our newest addition to the RENEW Scripture Series is Matthew: Come Follow Me by believer and scholar Martin Lang. I find this series unique and inspiring. The first section of each session, “Enter into the Biblical Story,” invites us to take on the mantle of a disciple in the time of Jesus, to follow him, listen attentively to his Word, and allow the Word to transform our hearts and minds.
 
The second interpretive lens Dr. Lang uses is entitled “Old Testament Witness.” This section examines the Hebrew Scriptures that were central to the belief of the early disciples and the Gospel writer. We reflect on the parts of the Old Testament that recapture the theological perspective of the corresponding section of the Gospel we are studying and praying.
 
The third interpretative lens Dr. Lang invites us into is called “Responding to Human Experience.” It is an effort to use modern culture to reflect on the Gospel—to connect the Word of God with our contemporary lives.
 
The final interpretive lens Dr. Lang presents to us is “Respond To God’s Word,” which invites us to act on the Word of God as it speaks to our lives in this moment.
 
Matthew: Come Follow Me is enriching my prayer and inspiring my preaching as I give presentations and retreats on various spiritual topics. As I grieve the recent loss of my brother Paul, I also find solace in Dr. Lang’s reflection on Matthew’s account of the resurrection.
 

“The resurrection of Jesus, for people of faith, is the bedrock symbol of God’s care for us. Death is not the ultimate humiliation. It is a passage to a new condition of life. As the theology of the Gospel of John tells us, the living Jesus dwells among us during our lives. He accompanies our journey. He leads us through the transition of death to continue our lives with him and all who love him, in a new form for all eternity” (page 362).

 
As a sister of St. Dominic and a follower of Jesus the Christ, I hope to immerse myself more deeply in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew reveals to us the continuity of Jesus’ teaching with that of the Torah and the Prophets. As Lang reminds us, Matthew beautifully weaves into his account the full thrust of Jesus’ universal message for all people—a new dawn for humankind is breaking. Jesus has come to establish the kingdom of God’s peace, love, and justice. I, like Matthew and Dominic, long to be a witness to that kingdom.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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